OLYMPIA – Legislative leaders unveiled their latest – and likely final – version of the 2011-’13 operating budget they described as painful but sustainable and moved quickly to pass it before time runs out in their special session.
The House Democrats overrode objections from Republicans and protesters who shouted “These cuts kill!” to approve it 54-42 Tuesday evening. It will go to the Senate for a vote today, the final day of the session.
The proposed budget, which totals some $32.2 billion for state programs and salaries, has cuts for every state agency and department.
It has pay cuts for state workers and expected cuts for K-12 teachers and other school employees. It cuts, but does not eliminate, the state’s Basic Health program and revamps the Disability Lifeline to end cash grants. It also cuts higher education but allows universities and colleges to make up for much of the reduction by raising tuition 11 to 13 percent.
The cuts are painful, but in some areas not as bad as earlier proposals, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s initial budget plan would have eliminated Basic Health and the Disability Lifeline. This proposal saves both, on much reduced levels.
“This is not the budget I would have written under other circumstances, but these are not ‘other circumstances,’ ” said House Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina.
House Republicans, however, said the budget’s priorities are off balance, with heavy cuts to education despite the fact that the state will take in nearly $4 billion more in revenue in the coming biennium than it did in the current one.
“We don’t have a revenue problem,” Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, said. “Our job as a state Legislature is to provide certainty” so businesses will add jobs and the economy will grow.
School districts will see a reduction in their state funding that equals a salary reduction of 1.9 percent for teachers and other certified staff, and a 3 percent reduction for administrators. The Legislature doesn’t have the authority to cut those salaries, which are negotiated between the districts and the individual unions. The districts will be able to reopen contracts to seek lower wages, or they could choose to make other cuts.
Those cuts are separate from the suspension of cost-of-living adjustments that voters approved by an initiative in 2000. Teachers who are eligible for step increases will receive those raises. Requirements to reduce class sizes, mandated by another 2000 initiative, are suspended, as is a program to reduce class sizes in grades K-4. A separate program for smaller K-3 class sizes in high poverty areas did receive money, however.
State employees would receive a 3 percent pay cut through a previously negotiated contract provision that calls for them to reduce work hours by 5.2 hours per month. Management in state agencies is ordered to cut between 7 and 10 percent.
Eligibility in the Basic Health program will be reduced to those who are eligible for Medicaid, and new admissions will be frozen, so the plan will cover about 37,000 people per month in fiscal 2012 and 33,000 in fiscal 2013. The state will also cut payments to hospitals, health centers and rural clinics and emergency rooms being used for nonemergency conditions. It will eliminate the adult dental health program and copayments for Medicare Part D for some clients. It will require families enrolled in the Children’s Health Program to pay higher premiums.
The Disability Lifeline program, which currently provides health care and cash grants to disabled people unable to work, will be replaced with new programs for a savings of about $116 million. The state will continue to provide medical care through other programs, and offer vouchers for housing and essential services to eligible participants through the Department of Commerce.